Well connected in the west, Saif al-Islam had been tipped to succeed his father, Muammar Gaddafi, as leader of Libya – until his appearance on Libyan state TV.
The unrest in Libya since 15 February prompted a spate of features on Muammar Gaddafi and his family. Most of them identified Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the president’s second eldest son, as his likely successor.
The narrative went like this. Unlike his hard-line father, who had used his 41 years in power to turn Libya into a police state, Saif al-Islam was a western-educated moderate and a symbol of his country’s hopes for reform and openness.
As if to reinforce this perception, Saif al-Islam had announced in January 2010 that he would not accept any position within the Libyan government “unless there is a new constitution, new laws and transparent elections”. And the fact that Saif has no power base within the armed forces (unlike his brother Mutassim, Libya’s national security adviser) further bolstered his liberal credentials.
But Saif al-Islam’s image was badly tarnished on the night of Sunday 20 February when, in a speech on state television, he cautioned that if the anti-government protests continued, “instead of mourning 84, we will be mourning hundreds of thousands”. Calling on the sort of blood-curdling language that is his father’s speciality, Saif warned: “Rivers of blood will flow.”
A recent Who Knows Who article, entitled Riddle of the Sands, pondered why Britain was so preoccupied by its relationship with Libya. It concluded that, given the extent of trade between the two countries (a relatively small £1.6bn in 2009), there was little to justify our fascination. But the fact is that Saif al-Islam’s links with the UK are considerable.
The 38-year-old’s connections date back at least to his time as a student at the London School of Economics, which awarded him an MSc in Philosophy, Policy and Social Value in 2003. In 2008 he received a PhD for a dissertation entitled The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions.
In the acknowledgements section of his dissertation, Saif al-Islam credits Professors David Held, Nancy Cartwright, Alex Voorhoeve, and Joseph Nye. He also thanks “a number of individuals at the Monitor Group with whom I worked to design and conduct the NGO survey”.
Those individuals are thought to include former MI6 spymaster Sir Mark Allen, a senior adviser to the Monitor Group and, since 2004, a special adviser to BP. In 2007 BP signed an oil exploration and production agreement worth some £550m with the Libya Investment Corporation.
Sir Mark is known to have lobbied Jack Straw not long before the then justice secretary abandoned efforts to exclude Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, from an agreement with Libya on prisoner transfers. He is also on the advisory board of the LSE Ideas, a centre for the study of international affairs.
The LSE has been at pains to disentangle its connections with Libya. A statement by the college on 21 February announced: “We have also received scholarship funding in respect of advice given to the Libyan Investment Authority in London”. The LIA is a sovereign wealth fund established in 2006 and said to be worth between £35bn and £50bn.
It also stated that the LSE Global Governance research centre, funded by a £1.5m donation from Saif al-Islam’s Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, was to cease new activities. On 23 February the LSE said it had received £300,000 of the £1.5m grant and would accept no further instalments.
Professor David Held, who is co-director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, issued a statement on 22 February condemning Saif al-Islam’s “rivers of blood” speech, saying it had failed “to grasp the changing circumstances of the Middle East in general, and of Libya in particular”.
Saif al-Islam established the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF) in 2003 – the same year he received his MSc from the LSE. The foundation’s website says it “carries out developmental and humanitarian activities in the social, economic, cultural and human rights fields”.
The GICDF annual report published in August 2009 lists the LSE’s David Held among the trustees. Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou and former Italian premier Giulio Andreotti are also trustees. In 2008 it emerged that Italy had warned Libya in advance of the US bombing of Tripoli in 1986. Andreotti was foreign minister at the time.
In the section entitled “Relief and Development Assistance”, the 2009 annual report states that it had launched a relief convoy, organised by George Galloway, at the time an MP for the Respect party, to help “civilians and innocent people” in Gaza in the wake of “Israeli aggression”.
Friends of everyone
Recent reports about Saif al-Islam’s alleged friendships in London have named Nathaniel Rothschild, Oleg Deripaska and Lord Mandelson – all of whom featured in reports emanating from Corfu in 2008 and alleging that Mandelson, the then business secretary, had “dripped pure poison” about Gordon Brown to George Osborne, the future chancellor.
Russian oligarch Deripaska and financier Rothschild together hold a significant stake in Rusal, the world’s largest aluminium producer, which signed a deal in 2008 to develop an energy and minerals facility in Libya. Saif al-Islam subsequently attended parties given by members of the Rothschild family. The Libyan Investment Authority, meanwhile, acquired a £180m stake in Rusal.
But the suggestion of a close friendship between Saif al-Islam and Peter Mandelson is pooh-poohed by Sir Oliver Miles, former UK ambassador to Libya. He told Channel 4 News: “They’re both friends of everyone when it pays them to be!”